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Capitol Hill hears Montgomery teens’ voices on college sexual assault

Read this story in Gazette.Net

Neatly dressed in suits and ties, high school and college students waited patiently Friday in Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office on Capitol Hill.

The group was ready to impress the importance of an issue that weighed on their minds — sexual assault on college campuses.

The students were among about 40 that trekked to Washington, D.C., on Friday as part of an effort by Jewish Women International, the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and Aleph Zadik Aleph, a program under a Jewish teen movement called BBYO.

Both the young men in college and those soon headed to campuses participated in the event called “Brother to Brother,” which encompassed training, discussion and trips to the offices of five senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Several students hailed from Montgomery County Public Schools’ Wootton, Sherwood, Walter Johnson, Churchill and Richard Montgomery high schools.

Jules Jacobs, a 16-year-old sophomore at Wootton High in Rockville and the event’s founder, said the goal of Friday’s sessions with congressional staff members was to share personal stories to help spur national lawmakers to vote for legislation on the issue. They are not pushing for any particular bill.

Friday’s effort was also important, he said, to help the young men involved understand that their voices can be heard by legislators and they can make a difference.

“We need to be able to make a voice in what we want change in,” said Jules, president of the Sammy Davis Jr. AZA, a local chapter.

Bryan Pfeffer — president of Zeta Beta Tau at the University of Maryland, College Park — led a group of college and high school students in Warren’s office.

The young men took turns sharing their thoughts with a staffer.

Pfeffer said students don’t feel safe on college campuses.

Jules said it’s important that those who have been sexually assaulted “get justice” and help with their recovery.

“It really affects the families and friends, further than just the victims,” Austin Brick, a sophomore at Catonsville High School in Baltimore County, said during the meeting.

Walt Whitman High School senior Aaron Dane, who visited a different office, said he was excited to share his voice for the first time with the country’s decision makers — “one of the highest levels of political action.”

“Overall, when something bad is happening to people, I feel like I should stand up to do something about it,” said Dane, president of the boys chapters in the D.C. Council of BBYO.

Before they broke off into groups for the office visits, the students discussed the idea of intervening in situations to prevent sexual assault.

Jules said it’s “crucial” for the next generation of male college students to not only be informed about the issue of sexual assault at colleges, but to know “how to take a stand” when they see a situation.

“There’s so many ways that we can intervene and having that in your tool belt is going to be so important for when we’re in those situations, so that you’re not scared, so that the party involved isn’t scared, and that you don’t have to worry about confrontation, but you can avoid it in a safe and smart way,” he said.

Robin Rubin, manager of advocacy at Jewish Women International, said violence against women on college campuses has grown over the past decade.

Jewish Women International’s work includes legislative advocacy and other efforts to end sexual assault on college campuses.

“We’re never going to end this epidemic without the help of our young men,” Rubin said.

Friday marked an opportunity for the young men to “lend their voice to the debate” and let members of Congress know they want to see such violence end, she said. Lawmakers have heard from victims of sexual assault.

“Now it’s time for them to hear from the boys and the men to hear their story, as well,” she said.

Pfeffer said he thinks it’s “refreshing” for a member of Congress to hear from college men who want to “be part of the solution” and make sure women feel safe on campuses.

He said it was “really inspiring” to have high school students team up with the fraternity brothers.

“It’s really promising to see that guys that are a lot younger than me and maybe [have not] seen the things you see in college already care so strongly about the issue,” Pfeffer said.

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